Choo wins gold, awarded military exemption
Indians star leads South Korea to Asian Games championship
CLEVELAND -- Shin-Soo Choo has his gold medal.
That will be enough for the Indians' star outfielder to avoid his home country's required military service, according to a report on Monday night.
Last Friday, South Korea defeated Taiwan, 9-3, to capture the gold in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, completing a quest for Choo to become exempt from military conscription. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer on Monday reported that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti received official word of the exemption from the Korean Baseball Office on Friday night.
"I am kind of dreaming right now," Choo told Korean reporters after Friday's victory. "Honestly, if [I told you] I didn't think about the military service, I might be a liar. But it wasn't the primary reason to join in national team. I love baseball, and whenever I put the national flag on the shoulder, I am really proud of my nation and myself.
"That's why I want to play [for] this team. I am representing all the Korean baseball players."
In the gold medal game against the defending champs from Taiwan, Choo went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a stolen base. Over five games in the tournament, Cleveland's budding star hit at a .571 (8-for-14) clip with three home runs, six walks, eight runs scored and 11 RBIs for South Korea.
Along the way, South Korea went undefeated to reclaim the gold it also won in 2002 and 1998.
"I'm very happy for him," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He is a proud man who cares a lot about winning. Now South Korea is on top of Asian baseball, and he can continue to make them proud with his accomplishments in MLB."
Antonetti was impressed with how Choo performed, considering the very unique circumstances.
"It's hard to imagine a more presure-filled environment than playing under the circumstances Choo was playing in," Antonetti said. "It's certainly a great accomplishment for him and Team Korea to win the gold medal at a very competitive tournament and to perform exceptionally well in helping lead Team Korea to the gold."
The Plain-Dealer reported that it learned of the exemption in a text message from Antonetti, who added that he had not yet spoken about it with Choo, who is traveling in Asia.
According to the Korea Times, 10 players from the team will receive an exemption from 30 months of military conscription for capturing a gold medal in the Asian Games. All able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve two years in the military by the end of their 30th year.
Now that the possibility of Choo being fitted for a military uniform has been removed, attention can be turned on the Indians' attempt to sign the outfielder to a contract extension. Choo -- a client of agent Scott Boras -- is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, but Cleveland plans on exploring a long-term deal.
Choo, who turned 28 in July, hit .300 with 22 home runs, 90 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 144 games. The outfielder became the only Indians player since 1901 to record a .300 average and at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in consecutive seasons.
Considering the Indians control Choo's contractual rights through 2013, there is no real reason to rush into a deal. The Indians are also working with a limited budget this winter. Antonetti said, however, that he plans on meeting with Boras this offseason to continue dialogue about a long-term deal.
"It's certainly something that we'll explore," Antonetti said. "I think it's important to remember that Choo is under club control for the next three years, but we'll certainly look at the opportunity to extend that relationship beyond that.
"We certainly value him and are hopeful that he'll be a Cleveland Indian for quite a long time."